If you’ve noticed a steady uptick in the price of buffalo chicken wings from your favorite local bar or restaurant recently, you’re not alone. Thanks to a confluence of events, wing enthusiasts may be heading into some dark times.
According to several regional news outlets, a chicken wing shortage is underway, though the exact reason is a little hard to pinpoint. Some cite the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing demand for takeout food prompting excess demand for poultry slathered in buffalo sauce, while others, like the National Chicken Council, say that a rough winter contributed to power outages and production problems at poultry plants. This exacerbated an overall demand for chicken that was already at a high following the introduction of popular chicken sandwiches from chains like Popeyes in 2019. All told, sales of wings were up 7 percent in 2020.
Consequently, the price of chicken wings has shot up over the past several months. Normally priced at $1.50 to $1.70 per pound in the northeast, wings can now fetch $3 or even $4 a pound. While major chains like Pizza Hut can absorb that cost, independent bars and other operators have had to pass the extra expense on to customers. Others are opting to leave wings off their menu entirely.
“The prices are obscene,” Mark Bullis, owner of the Bull & Bear Roadhouse in Syracuse, New York, told Syracuse.com. “I cannot in good conscience pass that on to my customers, and even if I tried, I’d lose money.”
Raw wings seem to be the scarcest commodity, with boneless wings and par-cooked (partially cooked) frozen wings still readily available. But because bars generally prefer to serve freshly cooked wings, it’s not much consolation.
And it’s not just the birds. Food supplies like foil and gloves are also commanding high prices owing to demand. All of it is conspiring to make wing night an expensive proposition.
There is an end in sight. Hatchery supplies impacted by bad weather in states like Texas and Alabama should rebound, allowing supply to catch up with demand. In the meantime, don’t be surprised to see premium-priced wings—or no wings at all—at your local haunt.